Basically, media companies will demand a rate hike in new content negotiations, the cable TV provider will balk, and then each side blames the other guy for failing to strike a new agreement on time like reasonable adults. Content then gets blacked out for months, without consumers ever getting a refund. After a few months, the two sides strike a new confidential deal, your bill goes up, and nobody much cares how that impacts the end user. Wash, rinse, repeat.
For a long time the FCC would occasionally chirp about this, but generally treated these disputes as just “boys being boys,” and fairly broadly ignored how customers were getting screwed. There’s a chance this regulatory position might be finally changing.
The FCC says it’s now contemplating new rules requiring that cable and broadcast companies inform the FCC about any blackouts that last longer than 24 hours, and provide potential refunds for users:
“Enough with the blackouts,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “When consumers with traditional cable and satellite service turn on the screen, they should get what they pay for. It’s not right when big companies battle it out and leave viewers without the ability to watch the local news, their favorite show, or the big game. If the screen stays dark, they deserve a refund.”
Granted this is, of course, just a proposal, and a successful implementation will require consistent FCC enforcement, not the agency’s strong suit. But it’s still a notable improvement for a media regulator that spent the better part of a generation apathetic to consumers routinely being ripped off.
With the Biden FCC now having a voting majority, the telecom industry is clearly worried about the agency’s plans to restore popular net neutrality rules stripped away by the Trump administration.
To prep the lobbying field, the industry has started using its various proxy groups to seed the press with a bunch of bullshit arguments about net neutrality. Like this piece over at The Hill by the telecom-industry-funded “Innovation and Technology Policy Center,” which claims that dismantling net neutrality “saved the internet,” and that restoring the rules would harm the “vibrant and competitive” U.S. broadband market.
Or this story and associated telecom industry funded white paper by “two former Obama-era solicitors general” (who coincidentally now lobby for the telecom industry at their respective law firms) falsely claiming that the FCC lacks the authority to pursue net neutrality (courts have repeatedly stated they do).
The study basically argues that because the Supreme Court wants to lobotomize all federal regulatory authority via its looming Chevron deference ruling (something the telecom industry lobbied in favor for), the FCC shouldn’t even bother to try to restore net neutrality rules. It’s industry-funded bullshit, pushed by an industry that wants the FCC to remain a toothless marionette to monopoly power.
Numerous news outlets run this kind of industry propaganda without disclosing the authors’ financial ties to the telecom industry. But Bloomberg ran the op-ed, and then for good measure “reported” on their own op-ed as if it was factual, objective news. Only days later, after Bloomberg was criticized by outlets like The American Prospect, did Bloomberg reveal the study was funded by industry in a correction:
Bloomberg editors still somehow didn’t note that both study authors work for law firms that do policy and lobbying work for the telecom industry.
This is, of course, a fairly tried and true tactic by the telecom lobby. Make up some stuff, then get lazy or editorially feckless news outlets to seed the ideas in the public discourse without important context (like, oh, that the whole white paper is a policy and PR ploy designed to confuse everyone, or that it’s directly funded by telecom monopolies with zero credibility on public interest policy).
While it’s true that ruling Supreme Court cases could (further) lobotomize U.S. regulatory power, long time telecom policy guru Harold Feld is quick to point out that when the courts have discussed the “major questions doctrine” or Chevron deference, they’ve specifically given the FCC more leeway than other federal regulators when it comes to expertise-based rulemaking authority:
“One of the most important rulings relied upon by the courts regarding this doctrine is a 2005 case Gonzales v. Oregon, which blocked the Attorney General via the Drug Enforcement Agency from regulating doctors’ prescriptions under the public interest standard. In that ruling, the Court went out of its way to note that, while Congress delegated limited powers to the DEA, the FCC was an example of an agency that had far more expansive powers via its writ from Congress.”
Thanks to industry consolidation and saturated market growth, the streaming industry has started behaving much like the traditional cable giants they once disrupted. As with most industries suffering from “enshittification,” that generally means imposing obnoxious new restrictions (see: Netflix password sharing), endless price hikes, and obnoxious and dubious new fees geared toward pleasing Wall Street.
Case in point: Amazon customers already pay $15 per month, or $139 annually for Amazon Prime, which includes a subscription to Amazon’s streaming TV service. In a bid to make Wall Street happy, Amazon has apparently decided it makes good sense to start hitting those users with entirely new streaming TV ads, then charge an additional $3 per month to avoid them:
“US-based Prime members will be able to revert back to an ad-free experience for an additional $2.99 per month on top of their existing subscription. Prime memberships in the US cost $14.99 per month, or $139 per year if paid annually. Pricing for the ad-free option for other countries will be shared “at a later date.”
Of course imposing new annoyances you then have to pay extra to avoid is just a very small part of Amazon’s overall quest to boost revenues at the cost of market health, competition, customer satisfaction, and the long-term viability of its sellers.
Ideally, competition in streaming is supposed to result in companies improving product quality and, ultimately, competing on price. But eager to feed Wall Street’s insatiable and often myopic need for improved quarterly returns at any cost, streaming giants have begun extracting additional pounds of flesh wherever and however they can, product quality and consumer satisfaction be damned.
That (combined with stupid and pointless mergers and “growth for growth’s sake” consolidation) results in streaming services that are increasingly expensive, lower quality than ever (see the decline of HBO as one shining example), and don’t much care about the consumer experience. That’s before you get to the endless industry layoffs or the media industry’s protracted unwillingness to pay creatives a living wage.
All overseen by a suite of unremarkable, fail-upward, overpaid executives (see: Warner Brothers Discovery CEO David Zaslav) who show absolutely no indication that they genuinely understand the industry they do business in or have any real empathy for employees or consumers. The result is higher prices, worse product quality, lower employee pay, plenty of industry chaos, and enshittification.
So, it’s not terribly surprising short-sighted executives can’t see this is the exact trajectory and decision making process that opened the traditional cable industry to painful and protracted disruption, ensuring history simply repeats itself in perpetuity.
California is poised to be the third state in the U.S. (behind New York and Minnesota) to pass “right to repair” legislation after the state’s Right to Repair Act SB 244 passed 50–0 vote in the Assembly followed by a 38–0 vote in the Senate. Those three states alone comprise roughly 20 percent of all American consumers.
The bill requires hardware manufacturers to make documentation, tools, and other repair essentials available to consumers and independent repair shops at affordable terms. And it passed, in small part, thanks to a last minute push by historically one of the worst offenders in the realm of affordable repair: Apple.
Tinkerers and right to repair activists like the folks at iFixit were unsurprisingly thrilled, noting that if this bill can pass in “Big Tech’s” backyard, anything is possible in other states:
“The era of manufacturers’ repair monopolies is ending, as well it should be,” said Kyle Wiens, iFixit CEO. “Accessible, affordable, widely available repair benefits everyone. We’re especially thrilled to see this bill pass in the state where iFixit is headquartered, which also happens to be Big Tech’s backyard. Since Right to Repair can pass here, expect it to be on its way to a backyard near you.”
Apple has been notoriously shitty on right to repair historically. The company has an obnoxious history of bullying of independent repair shops, making affordable independent repair as difficult as possible, and, initially, lobbying vehemently against any reform (it once tried to claim that if Nebraska passed right to repair legislation it would turn into a “mecca for hackers,” which was supposed to be derogatory).
With the right to repair movement seeing overwhelming, bipartisan public support, companies like Microsoft and Apple have both started to realize they were swimming upstream. Apple has slowly started rolling out programs that make it easier to repair Apple tech, and in August surprised everyone by announcing that it now supported SB 244.
To be clear other companies (and some policy orgs both Apple and Microsoft are members of) are having significant success watering many of these bills down. New York’s bill, which already excluded most of the worst offending industries on this subject (like vehicles, home appliances, farm equipment or medical devices) was comically weakened further by NY Governor Kathy Hochul after passage.
California’s bill isn’t as weak as New York’s, but it’s not quite as strong as Minnesota’s, in part thanks to certain loopholes:
“Though the bill is strong and should make repairs more available for everyone, it allows manufacturers to continue to engage in parts pairing, a practice by which they limit repairs with software blocks. They can also combine parts into expensive assemblies, which makes repairs more expensive.”
Consumer protection in general is fairly pathetic in the U.S., and is poised to become even more pathetic once the rightward lurching Supreme Court gets done lobotomizing regulatory authority. But the right to repair movement is a notable exception, and a growing number of companies are realizing that opposing the movement is akin to trying to start a fist fight with a river.
Mozilla’s latest *Privacy Not Included report isn’t subtle when it comes to calling out the shortcomings of modern, internet-connected vehicles:
All 25 car brands we researched earned our *Privacy Not Included warning label — making cars the official worst category of products for privacy that we have ever reviewed.
After studying vehicle systems for over 600 hours, Mozilla unsurprisingly found that modern vehicle makers collect way more data on you than they’d ever realistically need to develop useful products, including detailed location data, personal identifiers, data on your sex life (seriously), medical information, income, demographic data, and more:
Mozilla then found that 86 percent of car makers then bundle up that data and sell it to a wide assortment of barely regulated data brokers and nitwits, often leaning heavily on the long useless claim that this sort of data trafficking is ok because the data has been “anonymized” (a gibberish term).
None of the carmakers were transparent as to encryption and security practices. 92 percent of carmakers gave users no control over their own data (just two manufacturers owned by the same company, Renault and Dacia, even suggested that should be possible). Mozilla also found that all vehicles have a comically broad definition of “consent” when it comes to user approval of data collection (as in, there really isn’t any, and it’s buried under the usually over-long privacy policies nobody reads).
Again, none of this should be surprising. The United States has proven to be too greedy and corrupt to pass even a baseline privacy law for the internet era, or to even vaguely attempt to regulate data brokers. The U.S. government has also grown fat and comfortable buying access to this over-collected data as an end-around for traditional warrants.
At some point there will be a privacy scandal so grotesque (potentially including mass fatalities or national security) that Congress will be forced to act. Until then, we’re just going to keep rumbling down the same doomed road as every last fart is documented and monetized in ridiculous detail.
Countless companies and industries enjoy making up scary stories when it comes to justifying their opposition to making it easier to repair your own tech. Apple claims that empowering consumers and bolstering independent repair shops will turn states into “hacker meccas.” The car industry insists that making it easier and cheaper to repair modern cars will be a boon to sexual predators.
Throughout the arguments is routinely peppered a single theme: providing easier and cheaper repair options to consumers is simply too dangerous to be considered. It apparently doesn’t matter that an FTC study recently found those claims to be self-serving bullshit designed to protect harmful repair monopolies from reform and lost repair revenue.
That right to repair is simply too dangerous to embrace is also apparently the argument being made by the growing E-Bike sector. People for Bikes, the national trade org representing bicycle manufacturers, has been reaching out to lawmakers urging them to exempt bicycles from all right to repair legislation. Successfully, as it turns out.
You might recall that New York recently passed a right to repair law that was immediately watered down by NY Governor Kathy Hochul. The bill already exempted key industries where repair monopolization is a problem, such as cars, home appliances, farm equipment, and medical gear. Unsatisfied, numerous industries got Hochul to water the bill down even further.
In a letter sent to New York Governor Kathy Hochul in December, People for Bikes asked that e-bikes be excluded from the state’s forthcoming digital right-to-repair law, which granted consumers the right to fix a wide range of electronic devices. The letter cited “an unfortunate increase in fires, injuries and deaths attributable to personal e-mobility devices” including e-bikes. Many of these fires, People for Bikes claimed in the letter, “appear to be caused by consumers and others attempting to service these devices themselves,” including tinkering with the batteries at home.
This of course is an industry whose products are already often unreliable and dangerous on their own; there’s been just endlessexamples of deadly fires caused by shoddy products and unreliable batteries. Most of these fires have absolutely nothing to do with consumers making repair mistakes. When pressed for evidence, the organization claimed the statement was “anecdotal”:
Asked for data to back up the claim that e-bike fires were being caused by unauthorized repairs, Lovell said that it was “anecdotal, from folks that are on the ground in New York.”
How very truth-esque.
As e-bikes get more complicated, it’s obviously more important than ever to ensure that repairing those bikes is affordable. Activists note that to create a sustainable, environmentally responsible industry with satisfied customers, the bike industry needs to do a much better job designing its bikes to be repairable, standardizing parts, and making it easier for consumers to access manuals and tools:
“There’s huge interest” in fixing e-bikes, said Kyle Wiens, CEO of the online repair guide site iFixit. But outside of manufacturers and specialized shops, “no one knows how.”
New York’s original law could have gone a long way in fixing that, but lawmakers were intent on undermining their own legislation after hearing scary, often false stories by self-serving industries. Minnesota recently passed its own right to repair law, and while also watered down to exclude cars, medical equipment, and game consoles, it did at least manage to include e-bikes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has backed off of its ill-advised opposition to right to repair after presumably getting an earful from reformers and the Biden administration.
This past June, NHTSA issued guidance advising the auto industry to basically ignore Massachusetts’ new right to repair law, which required that all modern vehicle systems be accessible via a standardized, transparent platform allowing owners and repair shops to access vehicle data via a mobile device. The industry’s justification: the new law would harm consumer privacy and security:
“While NHTSA has stressed that it is important for consumers to continue to have the ability to choose where to have their vehicles serviced and repaired, consumers must be afforded choice in a manner that does not pose an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety.”
Except that’s… not true. Not only was the NHTSA’s intervention not helpful and not based in fact, it effectively undermined the Biden Administration’s claims it supports extremely popular right to repair reforms. It also undermined Massachusetts voters, whose representatives had approved the law 75-25.
An auto-industry lawsuit had already delayed implementation of the law. The industry also ran ads falsely claiming it would somehow aid sexual predators. That right to repair reform will harm consumer privacy and security in a litany of terrible ways is the standard argument for repair monopolists like the auto industry, though a recent FTC report found that the lion’s share of those claims simply weren’t true.
According to 404 Media (a new tech news outlet created from Motherboard folks fleeing the Vice bankruptcy mess), the NHTSA is backtracking from its June announcement. In a letter to MA Assistant AG Eric Haskell, the NHTSA said it found a way to “advance our mutual interest in ensuring safe consumer choice for automotive repair and maintenance. NHTSA strongly supports the right to repair.”
Right to repair activists like PIRG’s Nathan Proctor tell 404 Media the damage has already been done:
“We strongly support the goals the agency puts forward—to protect repair choice and maintain safety. However, as it stands, the agency has achieved neither goal,” he said. “Instead, it has allowed a proliferation of serious safety and monopolization issues to continue without meaningful resistance. Let’s hope this new letter signals a change in approach. We don’t plan to stop our work until cars not only are safe, but also enjoy the full slate of Right to Repair protections.”
While the NHTSA doesn’t seem in any rush to hold Tesla meaningfully accountable for the growing pile of corpses created by Tesla’s undercooked and clearly misrepresented “full self driving” car technology, it somehow found the time to undermine a hugely popular, grass roots reform effort. Great job.
Of course that’s how regulatory capture works. Repair monopolists like John Deere, Apple, and the auto industry seed the landscape with all kinds of bullshit about how being able to affordably and easily repair things you fucking own is somehow diabolically dangerous. Captured lawmakers, regulators, and governors then use those claims to either prevent right to repair laws from passing (see: California), or to undermine them if they already have (see: New York).
When it comes to obnoxious DRM and bizarre, greedy restrictions, nobody does it better than printer manufacturers. The industry has long waged a not-so-subtle war on its own customers, routinely rolling out firmware updates or DRM preventing them from using more affordable, competitor printer cartridges.
A few years ago, printer manufacturers took this tactic one step further, and began preventing users from being able to use a multifunction printer’s scanner if they didn’t have company sanctioned ink installed. Canon was hit with a $5 million lawsuit in 2021 for the practice, but was able to quietly settle it privately without facing much accountability, or having to change much of its behavior.
In 2022 HP was also hit with a lawsuit (pdf) for preventing scanners from working without sanctioned ink cartridges installed, and not being transparent about this with customers. HP has spent a few years trying to wiggle out of the suit, but hasn’t had much luck. Last week, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled that the case could proceed.
HP lawyers had tried several tactics to have the case dismissed, including claiming that the court couldn’t trust the word of one of its own support reps when they stated at the company’s own website HP printers were specifically designed to include this error. They also tried to play some semantic patty cake, insisting that customers couldn’t prove they were being “actively” misleading:
HP in seeking a dismissal said the customers failed to allege such a duty or that it “actively” concealed any defect.
Amusingly, other companies like Epson have tried to use HP and Canon’s troubles to their advantage. The Verge notes that Epson has an entire page in their FAQ dedicated to how they haven’t pulled this sort of trick since 2008 (though the company engages in other dodgy shit, like rolling out purported “security updates” that covertly prevent users from being able to use cheaper third-party cartridges).
I think HP and Canon are very fortunate that U.S. consumer protection regulators generally don’t have (courtesy of decades of lobbying) the time, staff, or resources to police the massive amount of this type of fraud that occurs in this country on a daily basis. Especially when it comes to the kind of ham-fisted restrictions on what consumers can do with technology they purportedly own.
Microsoft has long been one of several companies that attempted to monopolize repair in a bid for profit, particularly when it has come to the company’s game consoles. But in recent years the company appears to have realized that with state and federal lawmakers and regulators cracking down on this behavior, it might be smart to stop swimming upstream when it comes to “right to repair.”
Last May, for example, Microsoft began urging lawmakers to support the Washington State Fair Repair Act, which would ensure that consumers and indie repair shops have the parts, tools, and documentation to repair their own gear. The bill didn’t pass — in part thanks to Democratic Washington State Senator Lisa Wellman, a former Apple executive (Apple’s a notorious, bull-headed bully on this subject).
Still, Microsoft’s support was reflective of what seems to be a legitimate shift in tactics at Microsoft, in large part so the company can meet its goal of being carbon negative by 2030.
Elsewhere, Microsoft has been doing a better job ensuring that consumers have access to both service manuals and essential parts needed to independently repair the company’s hardware, ranging from its Surface tablets and laptops to Xbox game controllers.
The Microsoft Store now offers replacement controller boards, buttons, covers, sticks, and more for those looking to fix their own hardware. The company has also started doing a better job providing users with video tutorials on how to best safely repair their own hardware. You can get many of the same parts also from iFixit now (with a lifetime warranty as compared to Microsoft’s one-year warranty).
The about face comes as a growing number of states begin seriously pursuing right to repair legislation with an eye on consumer rights, environmental waste, counterproductive DRM, and high repair costs. Given the massive, bipartisan public support for such reform, hopefully Microsoft has genuinely realized it simply makes way more sense to be on the right side of history.
Last year BMW took ample heat for its plans to turn heated seats into a costly $18 per month subscription in numerous countries. As we noted at the time, BMW is already including the hardware in new cars and adjusting the sale price accordingly. So it’s effectively charging users a new, recurring fee to enable technology that already exists in the car and consumers already paid for.
The move portends a rather idiotic and expensive future for consumers that’s arriving faster than you’d think. Other companies have also embraced the idea, and BMW continues to find new options to turn into subscription services. The latest: remote engine starting, which will soon cost car owners an additional $105 every year. On the plus side, there’s at least some flexibility with the pricing:
Most of these features are available through either a 1-month, 1-year, or 3-year subscription, or can be purchased outright for a one-time fee. Motorauthority reached out to BMW USA and found that the Remote Engine Start costs $10 for 1 month, $105 for 1 year, $250 for 3 years, or can be purchased for $330 for the life of the vehicle.
Again, this technology — and every other technology BMW is going to do this with — is already included in the higher-end price tag of BMW vehicles. It’s effectively double dipping (to please Wall Street’s insatiable desire for improved quarterly returns at any cost) dressed up as innovation. It’s not a whole lot better than your broadband ISP charging you $10-$25 every month for years for a modem worth $70.
Once companies get a taste of fatter revenues from charging customers for things they’ve already technically paid for, it won’t really stop without either regulatory intervention, or competitive pressure from automakers that avoid the model. BMW’s also turning a lot of other features into subscription services, like parking assist, video driver recording, and other features:
As for the Driver Recorder, it is available for $39 for 1 year, $99 for 3 years, and $149 for a one-time payment. Driving Assistant Plus with Stop&Go can be added for $20 for 1 month, $210 for 1 year, $580 for 3 years, and $950 with a one-time payment. As for Parking Assistant Professional, it is available for $5 for 1 month, $50 for 1 year, $130 for 3 years, or a one-time fee of $220.